Guide to the Olivia Converse Papers

Laurie Hannah and Lindsey Hashimoto
Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration
University of California, Santa Barbara
Harder South 9615
Santa Barbara, California 93106-9615
Phone: (805) 893-2401
Fax: (805) 893-4222
© 2008
The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.

Descriptive Summary

Title: Olivia Converse papers
Dates: 1939-1971
Collection number: MS-04
Creator: Converse, Olivia L.
Collection Size: 4 linear feet 5 boxes
Repository: UC Santa Barbara Library, Department of Special Research Collections
Abstract: Correspondence, manuscript, artwork and photographs related to Olivia Converse's writings about Mexican plants.
Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English Spanish Nahuatl


Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

Copyright has not been assigned to the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration, UC Santa Barbara. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Director. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Cheadle Center as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

Preferred Citation

Olivia Converse papers, MS-04 , Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration. University of California, Santa Barbara.

Acquisition Information

Collection transferred from the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration, University of California, Santa Barbara, to the UC Santa Barbara Library Department of Special Research Collections, August, 2016.

Processing Information

Arrangement and description of this collection was funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Biography / Administrative History

Olivia Poole Long Converse was born November 23, 1898. She was the daughter of Louis Long. According to her friend Isabel Kelly, she was raised in California and attended UC Berkeley. She married George P. Converse, grandson of Edmund Cogswell Converse, former president of U.S. Steel, in 1922 and they were subsequently divorced in 1928. She lived part time in Santa Barbara and also spent much of her time in Valle de Bravo, a town located on a large lake, about two hours from Mexico City. While in Mexico, she worked on a book on garden plants of Mexico writing the text and making original drawings of about 70 plants she hoped to describe. Her yearly stays in Mexico were interrupted by the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and she was unable to go back until 1944 to resume work on her book.
In 1946, she had a showing of her drawings at the Biblioteca Benjamin Franklin in Mexico City, sponsored by the Instituto de Biologia de la Universidad Nacional and the Sociedad Botanica de Mexico. A 16-page catalog was published containing the text that accompanied the pictures. Converse also illustrated the cover of an issue of the Sociedad's Boletin in 1948. While she worked on her book, she collected many plants from the wild and sent specimens to both Mexican and American botanists for identification. On the advice of Maunsell van Rensselaer, Director of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, she collected a voucher specimen for each plant so there would be no future questions regarding their identification. Many if not most of those specimens were deposited at the Jepson Herbarium, UC Berkeley. Some of her specimens are also in the herbaria at the U.S. National Herbarium, the New York Botanical Garden and the Missouri Botanical Garden. Two plants she collected were new to science and were named after her: Aristolochia conversiae H.W. Pfeifer and Erythrina oliviae Krukoff.
Converse tried for a number of years to get a publisher interested in her book, to no avail. At the time of her death in 1972, her text was still very much in draft form, although she had 68 final or partially completed drawings. Her friends and colleagues Isabel Kelly, Annetta Carter, and Cornelius Muller were tasked in her will to dispose of her manuscript and drawings. After considering publishing her work as single journal articles, the group decided to contact the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation in Pittsburgh to offer the collection to them. However, UCSB, where the collection was housed, made the decision to keep the collection for its value as a botanical art collection. In her honor, a graduate fellowship has been set up at UCSB for botanical field research in Mexico.

Scope and Content of Collection

The bulk of this collection focuses on Converse's unpublished manuscript and drawings of Mexican plants, a project she worked on during the last thirty years of her life. Included are descriptions of about 60 plants with accompanying pencil drawings. Through her book, she wanted to introduce American readers to showy and beautiful flowering trees and shrubs which have not been widely introduced here (letter to Macmillan Company, April 4, 1939). By 1961 she had broadened her scope to address a growing interest in pre-Columbian life and to show the importance of Mexican plants in Aztec culture. She added to her early descriptions evergreens of historical or economic importance, vines, fruits, and edible plants such as coffee and vanilla.
For each plant she gave its Nahuatl (Aztec) name, botanical name and any regional common name (in Spanish), as well as its native habitat, history of introduction if it was not native, medicinal or other uses, and other interesting information she found. She was interested in pre-Columbian uses of these plants and took copious notes from many historical works about Mexico. Her pencil drawings, showing flowers, fruits, and leaves, are stylized but accurate botanically. Accompanying these materials are research notes, field notes, and correspondence. Converse wrote to botanists in both the United States and Mexico for plant identification, verification of facts, and for assistance with editing. Notable correspondents include Annetta Carter and Herbert Mason from University of California, Berkeley; Maximo Martinez from the Sociedad Botánica de Mexico, Sylvio Conzatti, Clif Smith, and E.O. Orpet. Letters are in both Spanish and English. She also received assistance from botanists Paul Standley, Richard Howard, C.H. Muller, and Harold Moore, Nahuatl expert Francisco Horcasitas, and anthropologists Bodil Christensen and Isabel Kelly.


This collection is arranged into 4 series: Series 1 Correspondence; Series 2 Publications; Series 3 Photographs; and Series 4 Drawings.

Indexing Terms

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
Converse, Olivia L.
Plants, Useful--Mexico

Related Material

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Institutional Papers has correspondence between Converse and Maunsell Van Rensselaer.



Box 1, Folder 1

Correspondence 1937-1971

Box 1, Folder 2

Correspondence, Undated

Box 1, Folder 3

Fernando Horcasitas 1963-1970

Box 1, Folder 4

Publishers Correspondence 1939-1960



Box 1, Folder 5

[Chapter 1] Aheuheute, Taxodium mucronatum

Box 1, Folder 6

[Chapter 2] Oyametl, Abies religiosa

Box 1, Folder 7

[Chapter 3] Ocote, Pinus montezumae

Box 1, Folder 8

[Chapters 4 and 5] Quercus rugosa and Quercus urbani

Box 1, Folder 9

[Chapters 7 and 8] Ficus cotonifolia and Ficus petiolaris

Box 1, Folder 10

[Chapter 10] Cuauhnacaztli, Enterolobium cyclocarum

Box 1, Folder 11

[Chapter 11] Caoba, Swietenia humilis

Box 1, Folder 12

[Chapter 12] Habilla, Hura polyandra

Box 1, Folder 13

[Chapter 13] Pochote, Ceiba pentandra

Box 1, Folder 14

[Chapter 14] Guamuchil, Pithecolibium dulce

Box 1, Folder 15

[Chapter 15] Copal, Bursera glabrifolia

Box 1, Folder 16

[Chapter 16] Cirian, Crescentia alata

Box 1, Folder 17

[Chapter 19] Guarumbo, Cecropia schiedeana

Box 1, Folder 18

[Chapter 20] Sangregado, Croton dreco

Box 1, Folder 19

[Chapter 22] Colorin, Erythrina americana

Box 1, Folder 20

[Chapter 23] Tabachin, Caesalpinia pulcherrima

Box 1, Folder 21

[Chapter 24] Guaje, Leucaena esculenta

Box 1, Folder 22

[Chapter 28] Huele de Noche, Cestrum nocturnum

Box 1, Folder 23

[Chapter 29] Floripondio, Datura cornigera

Box 1, Folder 24

[Chapter 30] Yoyote, Thevetia thevetoicles

Box 1, Folder 25

[Chapter 31] Anacahuite, Cordia boissieri

Box 1, Folder 26

[Chapter 34] Yoloxochitl, Talauma mexicana

Box 1, Folder 27

[Chapter 35] Cacaloxochitl, Plumeria acutifolia

Box 1, Folder 28

[Chapter 36] Xiloxochitl, Bombax elipticum

Box 1, Folder 29

[Chapter 39 and 40] Tabebuia pentaphylla and Tabebuia palmeri

Box 1, Folder 30

[Chapter 41] Tecomaxochitl, Cochlospermum vitifolium

Box 1, Folder 31

[Chapter 42] Macpalxochitl, Chiranthodendron pentadactylon

Box 1, Folder 32

[Chapter 48] Temecate, Pithecoctenium echinatum

Box 1, Folder 33

[Chapter 49] Pinanona, Monstera deliciosa

Box 1, Folder 34

[Chapter 50] Timbirichi, Bromelia karatas

Box 1, Folder 35

[Chapter 51] Platanos, MUSA Specimins

Box 1, Folder 36

[Chapter 53] Cuauhayotli, Leucopremna mexicana

Box 1, Folder 37

[Chapter 55] Cuajilote, Parmentiera edulis

Box 1, Folder 38

[Chapter 56] Texocotl, Crataegus mexicana

Box 1, Folder 39

[Chapter 57] Atoyaxocotl, Ciruela spondias

Box 1, Folder 40

[Chapter 58] Capulin, Prunus capuli

Box 1, Folder 41

[Chapter 59] Guayaba, Psidium guajava

Box 1, Folder 42

[Chapter 60] Anona, Anona reticulata

Box 1, Folder 43

[Chapter 61] Chico Sapote, Achras sapota

Box 1, Folder 44

[Chapter 62] Cochizapotl, Casimiroa edulis

Box 1, Folder 45

[Chapter 63] Sapote Prieto, Diospyros ebenaster

Box 1, Folder 46

[Chapter 64] Mamey, Calocaprum mammosum

Box 1, Folder 47

[Chapter 65] Sapote Amarillo, Lucuma salicifolia

Box 1, Folder 48

Nahautl Plant Names, Nauhatl Words in Text

Box 1, Folder 49

Converse Manuscript (Incomplete, 21 Chapters Missing)

Box 1, Folder 50


Box 1, Folder 51

[Black Binder #1] Research Notes and Bibliography

Box 1, Folder 52

[Black Binder #2] Research Notes and Field Notes for Erythrina

Box 1, Folder 53

[Green Binder] Research Notes

Box 1, Folder 54


Box 1, Folder 55

OLC [Notes and Correspondence on Manuscript Drafts]

Box 1, Folder 56

Extra Material

Box 1, Folder 57-58

Notes for UC Herbarium and Record Book

Box 1, Folder 59

Miscellaneous Items

Box 1, Folder 60

Catalago de los Dibujos de Plantas Mexicanas de Olivia Converse, Biblioteca Benjamin Franklin 1946

Box 1, Folder 61

Exposicion de Dibujos de Plantas Mexicanas 1946

Box 1, Folder 62

Collecting Permit and Identity Card 1939

Scope and Contents note

Includes photo of Converse.
Box 1, Folder 63

Published Journal Cover and Obituary 1948-1973

Scope and Contents note

Obituary appeared in Macpalxochitl Boletin Mensual de la Sociedad Botanica de Mexico , June 1973.
Box 2

Notebooks--6 bound and spiral

Photo_box 1


Scope and Contents note

1 box of photographs of varying sizes. There is one complete set plus a partial second set of 4 x 5 photos of her drawings; additional 5 x 7 photographs of her drawings; and photos of various trees and flowers. There is also a photo of Olivia Converse and two photos of unidentified women.


Scope and Contents note

One oversize box contains sketches, drawings in various stages, and paintings of plants and mockups for the cover of the book. The other box contains 84 finished pencil drawings.
Box 3

Miscellaneous Artwork

Box 4

Original Drawings